Thursday, June 04, 2009

Delegate Anne Kaiser's End of Session Letter

April 2009

Dear Neighbors and Friends --

It’s hard to believe how quickly time goes by! Another 90-day legislative session in Maryland is behind us. Again, I was proud to put our shared values into action by advocating for continued progress in public education, equality and fair tax policies.

Let’s get right to it. I’ll go over some of this session’s highlights -- especially the state’s budget, our efforts to repeal the death penalty and also enhance our education policies. I’ll also discuss how our District 14 communities fared as well.

But first, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank you once again for your trust. It has been my honor and privilege to try my best to foster a better quality of life for Marylanders by providing reasonable, responsive and responsible representation in the Maryland House of Delegates.

I believe the interests of our diverse communities are well represented, especially when Governor Martin O’Malley, Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, House of Delegates Speaker Mike Busch, Senator Rona Kramer and Delegates Karen Montgomery and Herman Taylor and I work together on public policy issues.

As you may know, more than 100,000 people reside in District 14 -- which includes: Ashton, Brookeville, Brinklow, Burtonsville, Calverton, Cloverly, Colesville, Damascus, Laytonsville, Olney, Sandy Spring, and parts of Silver Spring and West Laurel.

Maryland’s Budget: the Great Balancing Act of 2009

Like so many residents in Maryland, our state budget has suffered during these trying economic times. Because of the drop in tax revenues, the governor and the legislature have worked to tighten Maryland’s belt and, unfortunately, close its pocketbook to many worthy programs.

This year’s budget marked the first time in 30 years where the governor and the legislature reduced the operating budget from the prior year. This is certainly very different from the 11 percent increase that marked the end of my first four years in the House of Delegates.

While we certainly made significant reductions to state government operations, we did not lay off hundreds of state employees or turn our backs on the progress we’ve made in education, the environment or health care as appeared probable early in the session.
We continued our commitment to invest in K-12 education, fund teacher pensions, and freeze tuition for the fourth year in a row to make Maryland’s public universities more affordable.

We used to have the sixth highest tuition rate -- but because of the tuition freezes, we’re down to 16th.

The legislature also prioritized funding for the environment by making it possible for the state to purchase additional open space land parcels and to continue the ongoing efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Kudos to Governor O’Malley and his team for restoring fiscal responsibility in Annapolis while managing the state’s complicated fiscal matters during very difficult economic times.

President Obama’s American Reinvestment and Recovery Act

Mid-way through the 90-day session, Maryland’s budget forecast became slightly less bleak when President Obama announced that his stimulus package included nearly $2 billion for Maryland.

Because of these new federal funds coming to Maryland over the next two years, we should see more than 50,000 new jobs, improvements to our transportation system and an increase in food stamps for the needy.

High-Fives All Around… Maryland is Number ONE in Public Education

According to Education Week, Maryland now has the best public schools in the nation. The best! I am so proud of our state for this impressive accomplishment -- and you should be too -- especially since the legislature has been allocating so much taxpayer money to the public schools. Since 2007, we’ve invested more than $2 billion in education and school construction and it has obviously paid off.

I firmly believe our state’s willingness to fund both early education and college readiness programs are also crucial components of this success.

In addition, as chair of the Education Subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee, I see the state’s ability to provide a quality education for every student as our single most important endeavor for the next ten years -- if not beyond. I was fortunate to have been selected for this leadership role in 2007 by House Speaker Michael Busch.

Growing and Learning as an Elected Official

As a subcommittee chair, I am sometimes called upon by Speaker Busch to explain the intent and predicted outcomes of particular education-related legislative proposals.

These explanations occur during full sessions of the House of Delegates -- when all 141 members are seated together in the chamber with the public looking on from the gallery. Some of these explanations are simple and take just a minute or two, while others require a great deal of preparation.

All in all, I think my ‘performance’ in this setting has improved tremendously over the last two sessions. My understanding of the issues is richer, my public speaking ability is stronger and my preparation is greater, thereby giving your needs and concerns a stronger, more resonant voice in Annapolis.

Statewide Progress on Social Issues of Interest

I believe the death penalty is unfair, unjust and unwise public policy. I do not trust the government to always be perfect at investigating crimes and prosecuting people. Often, convictions and death penalty sentences are overturned for a wide range of reasons.

While I was disappointed that the legislature refused to throw out the death penalty all together -- we did place mighty restrictions on the use of the death penalty by requiring a much higher standard of evidence before a judge can hand down a death sentence.

In regards to other issues, we passed legislation to make it more difficult for domestic violence perpetrators to get guns and easier for same-sex couples to inherit jointly owned homes.

Notable Changes and Enhancements to Maryland’s Public Education Policies

Specifically this session, the Education Subcommittee dealt with a range of issues, including early childhood education; increasing bargaining rights for support service employees in schools; child obesity and related health issues; and making education spending more transparent in Montgomery County schools.

In their own unique ways, each of these issues strengthens our public school system, and I was proud to play a role in moving these public policies forward.

I was also delighted to be the primary co-sponsor of Governor O’Malley’s bill to help reduce the education barriers that many children of military families face when they are forced to move to different states because their parents are carrying out their military duties and orders. A typical military family can move up to nine times in a 12-year period.

This measure first originated in 2007 when I was asked by Lt. Governor Brown and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sheila Hixson to attend a conference on public education and military families. Governor O’Malley will sign the bill in just a few short weeks and when enacted, it will require schools to be much more flexible and understanding when military children enroll from out-of-state.

Here….Data…Data…Data…Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are…

Let me be clear: good data is a cornerstone of good policy. There are no ifs ands or buts about that. Unfortunately, though, we don’t always have the data we need to make the best public policy decisions.

That’s why I introduced and passed two bills requiring the public school system to track key data to answer important questions in the near future: Do certain teacher training programs have greater impacts in the classroom? Are more minority students enrolling in and passing advanced placement courses?

One bill assigns an identification number to all teachers and the other creates a standardized course numbering system. These will ultimately expand the state's ability to measure student performance. Maryland has already gotten a $6.5 million federal grant because of these bills. And again, I was pleased to work with Governor O’Malley to pass them through both the House of Delegates and the State Senate.

Getting Our Heads Out of the Sand

It has always seemed odd to me that we penalize students if they come to school late or skip school all together by suspending them from school. While I certainly don’t want to encourage students to skip school -- I don’t believe it’s smart to punish them by making them miss even more school.

That’s why I introduced a measure prohibiting school principals from suspending or expelling a student from school solely for attendance-related offenses.

In addition, I also don’t understand why we withhold financial aid from students who take relatively small course loads. In these tough economic times, people need options for financing their higher education.

Many are working more hours for fewer dollars. I introduced legislation to allow financial aid officers in Maryland colleges and universities to offer aid to students who take 3-5 credits at a time. Some students are a few credits away from graduating but are forced to take fewer classes because of time and cost. Hopefully, this modest measure will help them get their respective degrees.

Notable Local Projects

Since the late 1800s, the Sharp Street United Methodist Church has worked extremely hard on behalf of the Sandy Spring community and will get a $50,000 matching grant from the state to build a new food pantry to better serve those in need in our community.

The Olney Boys and Girls Club provides sports and other programs for more than 7,000 children in our community. It also has a historic landmark on its property called Falling Green, so named by property owner Mary Briggs Brooke in 1824. The District 14 legislative team worked hard to get $150,000 to preserve this historic building and convert it into the organization’s office and caretaker residence.

And -- one of the jewels of our district -- the Olney Theatre will get $150,000 to expand their campus. I hope you have been able to take in a theatre production there -- they are really fabulous!

Also, on the home front, Montgomery County will be receiving at least $26 million for school construction. The Germantown Bioscience Center is slated to receive $32 million over the next two years, complementing the strong biotechnology presence in our county.

A Special Thanks to Artists and Community Groups

I am proud to decorate my Annapolis office with some of the districts finest points of interest, including the work of Miche Booz from Ashton and Donna McNeil from Damascus.

I also have images from the Trolley Museum, Olney Theatre, Olney Boys and Girls Club, the Sandy Spring Museum, Project Change and the Sandy Spring Slave Museum. If you happen to be in Annapolis, I welcome you to stop by my office and take a look at the great artwork.

In Closing...A New Hobby: Terrapin Pride

So…I was never a fan of women’s basketball… until just a few years ago when I started watching Coach Brenda Frese, point-guard Kristi Toliver and forward Marissa Coleman work their magic at the Comcast Center in College Park. It was such a joy to watch this special team win the ACC Tournament this year and advance to Elite 8 in the NCAA tournament.

I am hooked -- they are so fun to watch! Please let me know if you ever want to come with me to a game. The basketball season runs November through March (madness).

Again, it’s my absolute honor to represent our community. My success is completely dependent on your continued guidance, suggestions and support. Thank you for all of your visits, calls and e-mails.


Anne R. Kaiser

P.S. -- I would love to come to one of your community meetings to discuss your issues of interest. Feel free to call me at 301-858-3036 if I can ever be of assistance. Here’s to a great summer filled with great barbequed food and terrific friends!

Editor's Note: Delegate Anne Kaiser has represented District 14 (Ashton, Brinklow, Brookeville, Burtonsville, Calverton, Cloverly, Colesville, Damascus, Fairland, Goshen, Laytonsville, Montgomery Village, Olney, Sandy Spring, Silver Spring, Spencerville and Sunshine) since 2002.